• Sebastian Mann

Sundance 2021: Everything to Know From This Year's London Festival

Updated: Aug 8, 2021

Sundance Film Festival: London 2021 has wrapped. Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers kicked off the festival, with the enigmatic brothers appearing alongside Wright for a Q&A, managing somehow to keep their mystery intact to anyone looking in - a feat that feels almost in spite of Wright’s meticulously detailed 140-minute documentary. Prano Bailey-Bond appeared, too, accompanied by Niamh Algar, whose performance in Censor is one of the finest of the year.

While a more low-key event than its US counterpart, SFFL offered a rich gamut of exciting new releases. As some of the titles we reviewed hit the silver screen in the next few days, with the rest slated for release in cinema or on streaming later in the year, check out our review writer Sebastian Mann’s definitive guide to what to look out for, what to avoid, and what to take a chance on.

Best of the Festival: The Nest (2020)

The Nest, a brooding and engrossing thriller about a family crumbling under its own unsupported weight, is our review writer Sebastian Mann’s pick for the best film of the festival. Handsomely shot by Hungarian cinematographer Mátyás Erdély, writer-director Sean Durkin’s magnetic second feature is bolstered by a career-best performance from Jude Law, as a man whose veneer of irresistible charm disintegrates into loathing, panic and total despair.

Best Documentary: The Sparks Brothers (2021)

This is perhaps the least definitive category, functioning more as a competition between The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, about the tragic life of child star Björn Andrésen, and Wright’s Sparks doc. Other documentaries screened at the festival, including Holocaust survivor doc Misha and the Wolves and Nanfu Wang’s damning In the Same Breath, but unfortunately I caught neither.

But I’m confident in The Sparks Brothers. It is of the year’s most memorable releases, and arguably the greatest musical documentary since Scorsese’s reverent portrait of George Harrison from 2011. There’s an infectious feeling of joy as Wright navigates Sparks’ inimitable career with his trademark visual wit, explaining to you from the perspective of a superfan what makes them so great. If you’re not a fan now (and I’d heard nothing by them prior to watching - I know, I know), you will be by the end.

Films to look out for

Ninja Thyberg’s wild debut, Pleasure, was another major highlight of the festival. Sofia Kappel shines in her debut performance as Bella Cherry, a 19-year-old from Sweden trying to break into the porn scene in LA. It’s an extreme, shocking, and deeply sad look at the treacherous industry of modern porn with an absolute all-timer ending. No pun intended.

Censor, too, really stood out. It’s not guaranteed to please everyone, but it’s a near-perfect homage to the gory wonders of the video nasties and the far more insidious campaigns to censor their material. Algar is phenomenal as Enid, a young woman working at a censorship office who becomes obsessed with a cheap horror film potentially hiding clues to a tragedy in her past. Would make for a dream double bill with Peter Strickland’s brilliant Berberian Sound Studio.

Zola is a film based on a viral Twitter thread, produced by A24. Your mileage may vary.

In hindsight, I’m less optimistic about Human Factors, Ronny Trocker’s brutal family drama that echoes the macabre qualities of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (only without the bleak social commentary, nor, to my relief, the unrelenting nihilism). Its nonlinear approach to a simple break-in at a well-to-do family’s holiday home, jumping around the timeline to show the event from each perspective, makes for an engaging watch and is worth the price of admission, but it left me wanting a little more.

Things to avoid

I don’t like to be too negative but Carlson Young’s debut, The Blazing World, was by far the worst film there, and not by a technicality. It’s not the worst in that it is the least best and something has to be bottom, it is just bad. A vapid waste of time, to put it lightly. A stinker.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a little more forgivable. The first 20 minutes are a fascinating portrait of child stardom, the story of a young lad professed to be the most beautiful boy in the world by the Italian maestro director Luchino Visconti. The following 70, however, are your standard artful documentary fare: staring out of windows, staring out to sea, saying very little. Andresen is an interesting person, and it’s not boring to be in his company, but this would have worked better as one of those 15 minute Vice docs you see on YouTube that you’d never search for but you watch as soon as they’re recommended.

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